Starbucks shut more than 8,000 of its coffee shops in the United States on Tuesday to conduct a training session on racial bias for its employees, the company said in a statement on its website. Nearly 1.75 lakh employees participated in the “learning session”.

The company said the training session is “not a solution, but the first step” in making Starbucks an “inclusive gathering place”, reported The Guardian. The training session was announced after two African-American men were arrested in April for sitting at a Starbucks store in Philadelphia without ordering anything. They later settled with the city administration for $1 each, and a promise from officials to set up a $200,000 (Rs 1.33 crore) programme for young entrepreneurs.

“Our hope is that these learning sessions and discussions will make a difference within and beyond our stores,” said Starbucks Executive Vice President (US Retail) Rossann Williams in a note to the company’s partners. “By educating ourselves on understanding bias and how it affects our lives and the lives of the people we encounter and serve, we renew our commitment to making the third place welcoming and safe for everyone.”

Starbucks said the session was not mandatory, but that employees were “invited and encouraged” to attend, reported NPR. A representative of the company said that Starbucks would use the material in its regular training, including for new hires.

In a video shown to employees, hip hop artist Common explains that it is sometimes better to embrace differences than to look for only similarities in one another. In another, documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson Jr. provides an overview of the civil rights era and viral videos of racial incidents in the past, reported The New York Times.

A video released by the company ahead of the training session showed a clip of the two African-American men being arrested. The voiceover says, “That is not who we aspire to be”.

Civil rights activists and experts were part of Starbucks’ training. Heather McGhee, president of Demos, an equal rights thinktank, former US attorney general Eric Holder and representatives of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education fund contributed to the training session.